What to Know
- Dozens of rent-stabilized tenants are suing their landlords over permanent increases calculated as a percentage of claimed renovation costs
- Landlords are supposed to keep receipts and other documentation justifying the increases, but they're not required to submit them for review
- Activists and elected officials have long criticized the program as too easy for landlords to cheat; landlords say the costs are justified
When Clem Chan and his husband Matthew Haensly signed the lease for their Sunnyside apartment, they thought the landlord was giving them a deal.
They agreed to pay $2,500 a month -- a discount from the $2,800 the landlord could legally charge. But after reading news stories about the abuses associated with rent-stabilized apartments, Chan decided to look into the apartment’s rental history.
For more than two decades, the rent inched up gradually from $800, reaching $933 in 2014. Chan then noticed that two years before they moved in, the unit’s rent increased dramatically -- by $1,317 a month. The increase, according to the landlord, was mostly a result of renovations completed in 2014.
"That seemed really suspicious to me because our apartment didn’t look like a palace or anything," Chan said. The cabinets were crooked and didn’t shut properly, there were problems with the toilet, cracks in the ceiling and a laminate tile in the middle of the kitchen floor often peeled off from wood underneath, he said.
Chan is one of dozens of tenants across the city suing their landlords over "Individual Apartment Improvements," or IAIs, which allow building owners to permanently increase the rent on rent-stabilized apartments, calculated as a percentage of the claimed cost of renovation work.
While landlords are supposed to keep receipts and other documentation justifying these increases, they are not required to submit them to the state housing regulator for review.
It’s a program that housing activists and elected officials have long criticized as too easy for landlords to cheat, by either deliberately overspending on low-quality work or not actually making the improvements in the first place.
Landlords say the costs are fully justified.
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